Getting accepted into a program abroad is half of the battle. In my case, I was accepted into a TEFL certification program in known as Meddeas. After receiving word of my acceptance I was THRILLED. I couldn't believe that I was actually going to get the chance to go to Spain, get paid, earn a certificate, and gain valuable professional experience. It was a dream come true. Getting accepted to this program was a great feat but I didn't realize that the battle was far from over. Unlike my european colleagues, I had to go through the trouble of obtaining a student visa. I'd talked to many friends who applied for their visas to study abroad and they all said the same thing: the visa process is full of headaches and mountains of paperwork. It is nothing short of hellish but my friends assured me that it was worth every ounce of stress.
My program sent me details and deadlines about the visa process but I honestly felt unprepared. The process felt like too many moving parts and many moving parts meant more opportunities for things to go wrong. Luckily for me, I didn't go through this process alone; my good friend from college was accepted into the same program and she and I held one another accountable when it came to getting things done.
The first step consisted of a simple Google search to find the location of the nearest Spanish consulate. Next, we went to the consulate website and searched for student visa requirements and this is where things can get confusing. While the requirements were listed on the website, the language was often unclear and left both my friend and I with many questions. Whenever we tried to call the consulate or email them with our questions we were left ignored. Most sane people would stop right here but my friend and I were determined to get our visas despite the many ambiguities that swarmed around us. Instead of trying to get everything done at once we decided to tackle each task one step at a time.
BOSTON CONSULATE VISA REQUIREMENTS:
One application (the link to application was on the website)
One supplement form (the link to the form was on the website)
One color photo with a white background (passport sized)
A valid passport
Evidence of migratory status in USA (only for non-US citizens)
Letter of acceptance into program or school abroad
Health insurance (insurance coverage abroad that covers you for health/injury)
Proof of financial means during your stay (This could be in one of 3 forms: a notarized letter from your parents assuming financial responsibility for you during your stay, a letter from your program or university indicating financial coverage for your stay, or personal bank statements that prove you have sufficient funds)
Non-refundable money order for $160.00 (you do not get this money back if you get denied for your visa)
Certificate of non-criminal records (FBI or state background check; must bear the Apostille of the Hague Convention which costs about $6.00)
Translated certificate of non criminal records (This cost me about $150.00)
Medical certificate (for stays of more than 180 days; must be signed by doctor stating that you do not suffer from an illness that would pose a threat to the public)
That's a lot of paperwork but have no fear! It is completely doable.
After I obtained all of these documents (which by the way were pretty costly), I had to make an appointment at the Boston consulate. In order to do this, I had to stalk the consulate website daily. At one point I thought that I wouldn't get an appointment in time and I seriously thought about giving up. I thought that it just wasn't in the cards; maybe my not getting an appointment was a sign from the Gods that I needed to try another career path. But just when I thought all hope was lost, I went to the consulate website and saw it: an open appointment slot. The moment felt magical and I'll admit that I simultaneously jumped and cried with joy.
My appointment date came and I had to drive two hours to Boston. I got there with twenty minutes to spare but for the consulate, timeliness wasn't really of the essence. I got to the office and there were groups of people sitting in chairs, on the floor and standing in a line that wrapped around the small room. I waited in the line for approximately forty five minutes and handed them my documents. Luckily I had quadruple checked everything beforehand. One thing that really helped me was labeling my documents and grouping the originals and copies together. I put all of the documents in the exact order as they were on the website and this proved to come in handy when the man at the consulate asked me for specific documents.
My documents were handed in within three minutes and I was told to wait in the consulate until they called my name. I waited about an hour for them to call me and during that hour I overheard many conversations between visa seekers and consulate employees about missing or incorrect documents. Some people didn't know that they needed a translation of their background check others were missing medical letters. All of the people claimed that they didn't know that they needed these documents even though there was a list of required documents on the website. If nothing else, this goes to show you the importance of reading every detail. You will never be faulted for over preparedness but if you show up to a consulate appointment underprepared, they will be sure to send you home. These mistakes are avoidable, don't make them!
Finally my name was called and the consulate employees told me to hand in my money order of $160.00; they said that my visa would be ready in about a month and that I would have to come back to pick it up.
As ashamed as I am to say it, I teared up in that consulate office. It felt so good to finally be rid of the visa stress. I no longer had to worry about getting an appointment or forgetting a crucial document, I was going to get my visa. I left the consulate with my original documents in hand and a huge smile on my face. The next month would be smooth sailing.
A month later I emailed the consulate asking if I could pick up my visa and they confirmed that it was ready. The second time in the consulate office lasted less than fifteen minutes. I walked to the front of the line and told them I was picking up a visa and they handed it to me without delay. Suddenly, all of the trees I killed printing documents, the dollars I spent to get signatures and notarizations, and the hairs I ripped out due to all of the stress seemed worth it.
The visa process taught me an invaluable lesson: patience and perseverance yield great results. I've never been a quitter although I've also never been one to stick to my diets long enough to see the results I wanted either. After this seemly impossible process I knew that I could overcome the stress and the tears and make it to the finish line. I didn't run, I walked. I took baby steps and stumbled a few times along the way but nevertheless, I persisted and trust me when I say that you can too.
My friend and I made it to Spain and this reward made all of the visa headaches worth it!
-Remember that not all consulates are the same. Each state has its own requirements. Do a quick Google search to figure out which consulate you should go to and make sure you quadruple check their list of requirements
-Print multiple copies of your necessary documents and organize them with labels and binder clips. I made labels out of post its and it saved me the panic of searching for documents when I was at my visa appointment.
-Give yourself time. Don't book your appointment at the last minute. Remember, you need to wait at least a month to get your visa after you hand in the application. This means that you have to surrender your passport and put all of your travel plans on hold. I booked my appointment for two months before my departure and it gave me enough time to get my documents sorted and to receive my visa before my trip.
-Don't panic. As hard as this may be remember that many people apply for visas everyday. If they can do it, you can too.
-Take in the experience with open arms. Take the good, the bad, and the ugly and understand that the visa process helps you grow. You learn how to be responsible, timely, and diligent. You will get through it!